How to Really Find and Hire Diversity Candidates

As part of our “Talent Driven Cultures” research project, we’re starting to implement aggressive diversity sourcing programs for some of our clients. As we do our benchmarking to determine what works and what doesn’t, some interesting findings emerge. One common theme is that individual tactical actions are less effective than a broad, company-wide program. Another is that ó except for one twist ó the best diverse candidates are no different than the best non-diverse candidates in deciding whether to consider or accept an offer. Here are the criteria they use. Diverse candidates look for:

  • A great job filled with challenges, and opportunities to learn important skills, handle some interesting assignments, and over the course of the job, become better at whatever they do
  • The opportunity to work with a professional team of other top performing people
  • A company that that has a great vision to be dominant in its industry
  • A good manager, who has a track record of pushing and developing subordinates

Here’s the twist:

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  • A company committed to diversity as a core belief, not window-dressing

If you want to create an effective diversity hiring program, think big and address each of these specific needs collectively. Partial solutions won’t work. Here are some things you can do to take your diversity hiring efforts to another level: 1. Use compelling advertising combined with a simple application process. Most advertising is ineffective. To see how well your company is doing on this score, just ask your best people if they would even apply for one of your advertised open positions. In fact, you might even want to ask if they can find the ad, if they would have been qualified based on required skills when they started in the job, if the job is boring or exciting, and if they’d bother going through the typically arduous application process. Aside from streamlining the application process, it’s important to make these jobs exciting. The best candidates always have multiple opportunities. The best diverse candidates have even more. So if your job descriptions are boring, you’re starting the process with the wrong process in place. Take a look at these examples of compelling ads. Notice the outrageous titles and the copy. The title ensures the copy gets read. The copy ensures that candidates will apply. The skills have been minimized to the absolute lowest level. The best people usually have only 75% of the skills required, but 125% of the potential. This type of ad attracts this high-potential person. 2. The professionalism of the interviewing process counts. The best people, diverse or not, consider the quality of the interviewing process as part of their overall evaluation. A comprehensive interviewing and evaluation process that emphasizes accomplishments and results is viewed more favorably than one where the management team quickly goes into “sales mode.” Make the job challenging and make the candidate earn the right to it. A job has more value when it’s earned this way. The hiring manager is a critical piece of the hiring puzzle. Hiring managers need to clearly know the job and be able to describe its impact on the overall company. Once the candidate has passed some of the hurdles, it’s appropriate for the hiring manager to describe how he or she has stretched and developed other people in the group. It’s especially helpful if there are other diverse people on the team already. Next best is if the hiring manager can clearly describe this as a personal goal and point to some historic evidence of making it happen. If everyone on the hiring team knows the job (see my article on preparing performance profiles) and conducts an equally professional interview, the candidate will more likely see the whole group as a team worth joining. Basing exclusiveness on merit and performance rather than on race, gender, age, or physical challenges sends an important message to all candidates. 3. Create a high-level, company-wide diversity initiative on multiple fronts. Talk is cheap. It’s even cheaper when it comes to diversity hiring. The best candidates can see through a sham. So you can’t just talk about diversity hiring and put up a piece about it on your website. You must live it. This means proactive messaging, real demonstrated opportunity with real people who can talk about it and be seen as living proof, and a diverse team of managers doing the interviewing and hiring. If you haven’t yet reached this level, but would like to get there, demonstrate your progress so far. A management message that permeates the core culture is an essential part of this. If you only have a few people to demonstrate that you mean business, include videos of them on your website. Include their bios, showing how they’ve progressed through the company. Clearly describe their accomplishments as glowing proof that these role models succeeded due to their performance, not the color of their skin. Show others now earning their stripes. Offer challenges and opportunities to those who want to be part of a company that offers a chance for everyone to show what they’re capable of becoming. 4. Networking is essential. Have your diverse employees give you a list of all of their friends, associates, family members, mentors, advisors, coaches, and everyone else they know who might know other diverse candidates. See my article on networking for more ideas on how to get names from this group and how to recruit these candidates. Have the recruiting department take responsibility for contacting these referrals. Do not leave it up to the employee to contact the referred person! Just have them give you the name. In fact, send your recruiters to talk to every diverse person in your company for a one-hour personal visit. Use this meeting to explain your diversity hiring initiatives and to generate their list. There should be a bounty for every person hired through these referrals, even though the HR or recruiting department is doing all of the work. During this meeting also give a quick employee satisfaction survey. Find out their general feeling about the company as a place to work, the quality of the management team, if they feel comfortable recommending a good friend to work at the company, and if they feel the company fosters a climate of openness and opportunity. If you have problems here, your diversity hiring programs need to take a back seat to these more critical areas. Putting It All Together One or two simple initiatives will not have any impact on your diversity hiring efforts. It takes bold management action on multiple fronts. Don’t leave it all up to HR. Every executive and hiring manager needs to commit their time, energy and resources to making it happen. Finding more diverse candidates is only one step in the overall process. It starts with a company-wide initiative, demonstrating to everyone that diversity is a critical core value. Great recruitment advertising that offers careers, not just jobs, is the next vital step. This gets the message out to everyone. If your ads are boring or heavy on skills, you’ll eliminate the very group you want to attract. Your career website is an important marketing vehicle. All candidates will check this out. Make sure jobs are easy to find and compelling. The first step in the application process should take less than five minutes. Use the website to directly and subtly highlight your diversity efforts. Proactive networking is an essential part of this process. Remember, your top diverse employees know other top diverse people. Convert these connections into hot candidates. Finally, conduct a professional interview with high standards. Don’t give your jobs away: make your candidates earn them. They have more real value this way. The program I’m recommending goes far beyond meeting legal and moral guidelines for diversity hiring. It’s really about building an outstanding company.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).

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